Westfield residents voice concerns over crumb rubber under soccer fields

Crumb rubber is used on fields with artificial turf to help lessen impact and improve support

City Councilor Mary Ann Babinski talks with health director Joe Rouse during yesterday’s meeting

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) –Residents voiced their concerns at Westfield’s Board of Health meeting yesterday about the use of crumb rubber under the turf of the Roots Athletic Center’s soccer fields.

Some residents yesterday brought forth concerns related to the use of crumb rubber and the possibility of the leaching off of chemicals into the groundwater, specifically the Barnes aquifer, below the athletic center. In addition, some brought concerns related to activity that can occur on the fields and whether or not those using the playing surfaces are at risk.

Crumb rubber is used on fields with artificial turf to help lessen impact and improve support for those playing on the surfaces. Typically, it is made from recycled tires that are made into granules.

“I’ve seen the reports, read the reports. If any of this is legitimized, that’s an issue,” Chris Pinney, father and youth soccer coach said following the meeting yesterday. “I’m just looking for an education.”

According to the website for the Center of Environmental Health (CEH), a non-profit organization that aims to protect people from harmful chemicals:

“Artificial turf that uses infill made from recycled tires (‘crumb rubber’) contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals, including benzothiazole, carbon black, and heavy metals. As the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center has written: ‘Exposures to chemicals present in crumb rubber at very high levels, typical of animal or occupational studies, are known to cause birth defects, neurologic and developmental deficits, and some can even cause cancer.’

However, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) webpage titled, “Federal Research on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields,” risk currently is uncertain. According to the website, “[l]imited studies have not shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with tire crumb, but the existing studies do not comprehensively evaluate the concerns about health risks from exposure to tire crumb.”

Mello, who brought with her a list of communities from Massachusetts, the US and beyond that have allegedly said “no” to crumb rubber fields, as well as organizations like NFL teams, said that it shouldn’t be the residents who have to determine safety.

“It should be on the person putting it down to prove it’s safe and not us,” she said.

Mello’s list was from synturf.org.

Also among Mello’s concerns was the fact that playing surfaces may at times reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which can put players at risk for heat-related illnesses.

Mello’s requests from the board included asking for an immediate excavation of the fields and a moratorium on activities on them.

Additional concerns came from Don Keilch and Constance Allen, co-owners of Yellow Stonehouse Farm, an organic farm that uses water from a private well source that is reportedly over the aquifer. Keilch and Allen voiced concerns with the water that they may use from the private wells and if chemicals from the crumb rubber could be in the water used on crops, thus endangering the organic aspect of the farm.

Also in the discussion was Ward 1 City Councilor Mary Ann Babinski, who also voiced her concerns for those using private wells.

“It’s time for us to take decisive actions to protect our aquifer,” she said.

Joe Rouse, director of public health for Westfield, said that the concerns that were brought forth are being investigated. He added that they were also acknowledged during the last Board of Health meeting, when they were initially brought forth to the board.

“Where we’re at right now is fact-finding mode,” he said. “We can research and at some point have a discussion.”

Rouse estimated that the board will be ready to discuss the findings and further steps within the next three months but to give the process time.

“I don’t want people to think this is something that will go on the back burner but you have to respect our government,” he said. “This is a process.”

Copyright 2017 The Westfield News